I’m a girl of the West, a Dionysian woman born on the heights overlooking Le Havre, the home of Jean Dubuffet and Raoul Dufy.
I belong to a Normandy rich in history, a region of vast beaches and crashing waves. It’s not that long since the mass evacuations that my grandmother used to tell us about, when people took the road to Avranches to flee the bombs in 1940. The baby girl she was expecting was to be called Claudine. She only lived a few months. I share her name to honour her memory – and the future.
I love re-reading the works of Annie Ernaux set in Normandy – La place, L'autre fille – which magically recreate the atmosphere of the Pays de Caux where my grandparents lived.
As far back as I can remember, living by the sea has always seemed to me to be my raison d’être, my essence – even a necessity. Yet I turned my back on the sea and moved inland to Paris. Still, I know that I will return to the coast one day.
I started painting seascapes to fill the void: countless boats, the blue coastline of the land the Gauls called Armorica, the peaceful waters of the Rance. The landscapes of my childhood fill me with inspiration.
Only later in life did the desire to start painting the men and women I loved take hold of me, in the summer of 2003, but it has stayed with me ever since: the much-loved faces of my grandmother Henriette, my mother Gémaux – crowned queen for the time it took to paint her portrait – my sisters Sonia and Zora, by turns princesses and bridesmaids. The family fresco is completed by my family Vincent, Hubert and Sarah and the indomitable Drew.
I am a painter. I have no need of words – images suffice. My life as an artist is like Philippe Delerm’s La première gorgée de bière: intense and full of zest.
When I wake up of a morning, I know that my brushes and palette are waiting for me in my studio, not far from my bedroom. The studio is lined with seventeenth-century wood panels and overlooks elegant old townhouses. I love the idea that it has seen a lot of life and I’ve kept the successive layers of wallpaper put up by the people who once lived here. I try to imagine what their lives must have been like. Were they as happy as I am these days?
Every morning, I am instantly enlivened by my first glance at my work from the day before. The night often brings counsel. My Indian ink lines put me in mind of my first drawings from way back when I was a child and I use acrylics because I love working at speed. Thinking about waiting for the paint to dry makes me lose track of my thoughts. And… I have to say, I’m extremely impatient in general. I love materials, textures, fabric, paper, metal, wood…
My use of bright colours and human figures reflects the first poems and novels that I read – Nadja, Belle du Seigneur. The significant presence of novels and poetry in my work might be what makes me stand out from other artists. I need texts – I need to read. I love slipping secrets into my paintings – scenes from films that have influenced me or the magical, unusual places I love to go, like the Deux Magots and the Opéra Garnier in Paris or Rue Saint-Patrice in Rouen. My paintings are like short films or scenes from a play: often cheery, never gloomy, with Paris, the City of Light, in the starring role. I paint to music, and I often have opera or some jazz classic by Miles Davis playing in the background.
It cannot be emphasised enough that art is the medicine of the soul. I have had occasional moments of doubt along my life’s path, but they’ve never lasted long. Art and painting have been the answer to all my questions. I’ve managed to move forward at long last to achieve my childhood dream: to be a painter. When I look at myself in the mirror, I see a woman replete with the happiness of discovering the meaning of life. I don’t use the word “meaning” lightly. It is possible to be an artist and to be happy. Why do historians and film-makers focus so much of their attention on tragic destinies? Do artists need to have been miserable to achieve recognition? Comedies win fewer film awards – dramas are seen to have something more noble about them. The same is true of art: “Painting should be a visceral experience!” What a strange, ugly idea.
Naive art, art singulier, and outsider art should be given greater recognition. They are not yet given enough presence centre-stage. Yet what richness of colour, what variety of style, what depth, what life! Paintings should be judged by their capacity to gladden the eye of the beholder. Figurative art is at long last making a comeback – art we can identify with is no longer off-limits.
People and their emotions are what count. I feel very close to Camille Claudel and to Frida Kahlo – two women famed for their capacity for love. They gave love abundantly, but received very little in return. Was their art not a vain attempt to conquer the hearts of the men they loved? Isn’t love the desire to abandon yourself to the will and mercy of the beloved, as Milan Kundera defines it in The Unbearable Lightness of Being?
Painting is another form of self-abandonment: saying “yes” as a way of breaking free. Painting means giving consent. I say “yes” to every party, especially on February 22: birthday presents are always welcome, though a copy of every film Patrick Dewaere acted in would bring me much greater pleasure than a watercolour by Marie Laurencin…